Category: Psychology

Steven Hayes PhD: Self-Acceptance and Perspective-Taki...

Steven Hayes is a professor, the chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada, and the author of more than 35 books and 500 scientific articles. The cofounder of the acclaimed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (known as ACT), Steven is a contributor to the Sounds True book The Self Acceptance Project: How to Be Kind and Compassionate Toward Yourself in Any Situation and the author of the Sounds True audio program Acceptance and Commitment Theory. In this episode of Insights of the Edge—which previously aired as part of an interview series on self-acceptance—Tami Simon and Steven discuss his experiences living with a panic disorder at a young age, and how his own bouts with anxiety shaped his clinical studies. They talk about the practice of perspective-taking and how it can be a powerful bulwark against self-recrimination. Finally, Steven offers his perspective on spirituality and how that perspective informs the core tenets of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

The Power of Mapping Your Emotions

It’s in everyone’s best interest to learn to remove the emotional blinders and identify emotions accurately, both the uncomfortable and the upbeat ones. After all, unpleasant emotions are normal and natural, a fundamental part of being human. Emotions fluctuate on a daily basis, often several times in a given day. If you didn’t experience negative feelings now and then, the positive ones wouldn’t be as noteworthy or joyful; your emotional life would likely be unnaturally narrow. You would also be deprived of the opportunity to glean important insights into yourself. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are silent messages, alerting you to pay attention to something in your personal or professional life, in your behavior, or in the world around you.

Instead of separating emotions into categories such as good or bad, positive or negative, happy or sad, it’s better to view all your emotions as useful information, as “evolutionarily evolved responses that are uniquely appropriate to specific situations,” says Karla McLaren, MEd, author of The Language of Emotions. “When you stop valencing, you’ll learn to empathically respond to what’s actually going on—and you’ll learn how to observe emotions without demonizing them or glorifying them.”

Being able to recognize and express what you’re feeling helps you better understand yourself (leading to greater self-knowledge); validate your emotions and tend to your own emotional needs; and take steps to address those feelings directly by communicating and responding to them effectively. Having emotional self-awareness can motivate you to make healthy changes in your life, take action to improve the world around you, and become more psychologically resilient—that is, better able to cope with crises and rebound from setbacks.

Learning to Unpack Your Emotions

For some people, engaging in free association can clear the cobwebs from their minds, almost like opening the cellar door to a musty basement and letting in light and fresh air. To do this, you might take a break and consider how you’re feeling about what you’re doing, reading, seeing, or thinking every few hours throughout the day. If a general word comes to mind—such as stressed, anxious, or angry—dig deeper and ask yourself what other emotions you might be feeling (maybe fear or annoyance) along with it. If you do this out loud in unedited, private moments, you might find yourself blurting out what you’re really thinking or feeling, revealing the emotions that are taking a lot of energy to keep inside. This is really about unpacking your suitcase of feelings, or untangling the knot of emotions that is taking up space inside you.

When you think about this in the abstract, it can be hard to pinpoint how you’re feeling. You may just see a swirling mass of a feeling quality such as “dread” or “foreboding” rather than recognizing the specific emotions you feel. To get to the root of your feelings, spend five minutes looking at the word cloud below—no more than five so that you don’t have time to filter your responses—and choose the emotions that resonate with your mood-state lately.

If reviewing these words evokes other feelings for you or if words or phrases that apply to you were not on this word cloud, jot these down in the blank word cloud that follows. Give yourself another five minutes to think about your recent state of mind and jot down phrases, images, or words that occur to you. This is your opportunity to personalize it without any limits or restrictions. If you feel stymied or draw a blank initially, think about your recent responses to current events or situations in your personal life or on the world stage. Try to be as honest as you can by focusing on how you’re really feeling when no one is watching—free-associate without judging, censoring, or revising what you write down.

Once you’ve finished your list, look at the order of the words you wrote down: Did they progress from all negative to increasingly hopeful? Do they portray an internal tension or friction in going back and forth between various feelings? If all the words are positive, consider the possibility that you may be in some degree of denial, focusing only on the window dressing rather than the emotions that lie beneath the surface. Also, consider this: Is there a pattern of shallow, visceral reactions that came out initially, followed by more complex thoughts and feelings? If so, think about whether you’re giving yourself enough time in your life to reflect. If you came out with highly intellectualized words or phrases first, it might suggest that you put on a bit of a facade when engaging with the world, and you might benefit from striving for a deeper engagement or familiarity with your emotions.

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!
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A Doctor’s Simple Tips on How to Get Better Sleep

Thanks to groundbreaking research, we have recently learned that every cell has its own timekeeper that can be thought of as a local clock. Deep within the brain, in the hypothalamus, lies a master clock that regulates all the local clocks, making sure that each one is set to the same time. This complex, coordinated process is in sync with the alternating cycles of day and night and with all the degrees of changing light that occur in a 24-hour period as Earth rotates on its axis. Called the “circadian rhythm”—from the Latin words circa, which means “going around,” and diem, meaning “day”—this internal process regulates the human body’s sleep-wake cycle, among many other functions. 

The master clock (think of it as circadian rhythm central) sends hormonal and nerve signals throughout the body, synchronizing the cells’ clocks to the day-night, light-dark cycle of life. On a continuous basis, the master clock can determine what time it is based on messages from photoreceptor cells in the retina that register light conditions outside and report these to the brain via specialized pathways. 

Meanwhile, the cellular clocks keep local time, making sure that various activities locally are timed right and are appropriately coordinated with other cells and organs. This is why, for example, key enzymes are produced at certain times, blood pressure and body temperature are controlled, hormones are secreted, the gut microbiome is populated with the right balance of bacteria, and gut motility is appropriate for the hour. 

Living in harmony with the way we have evolved brings physiological and emotional balance, creating a good fit between our bodies and minds, between what we’re doing and how we’re designed to function. Honoring our body’s natural rhythms helps stabilize our mood, become more resistant to stress, feel less physical pain, and generally feel and function better physically and mentally. It’s an essential step in cooling and calming emotional inflammation. 

The following are some ways you can adjust your habits so that they support your body’s inherent rhythms: 

  • Put yourself on a sleep schedule. Establish a regular sleep-wake schedule so that you go to bed at approximately the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. It’s fine to vary your bedtime by an hour or two occasionally, but don’t sleep in more than an extra hour on the weekends (unless you’re sick); otherwise, you will end up disrupting your sleep pattern for the next night. 
  • Identify your slumber sweet spot. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to feel and function at their best. Once you figure out how much you need, determine what time you need to get up in the morning and work backward to set an appropriate bedtime; or, you can identify what time of night you typically feel sleepy and then set a wake-up time accordingly. 
  • Brighten your mornings. When you get up in the morning, expose yourself to bright, natural light to stimulate alertness, enhance your mood, and help calibrate your circadian rhythms. Take a brisk walk outside or have breakfast in a sunny spot. If you struggle to reset your internal clock to the “awake” setting in the morning, consider buying a commercial light box that emits 10,000 lux, which mimics a bright, sunny day. Sitting in front of such a light box for 30 minutes in the morning, perhaps while you have breakfast or read the newspaper or newsfeeds, has been found to stimulate alertness and improve mood. Alternatively, you could opt for a desk-lamp-style light box for your desk at work. 
  • Adjust your indoor lighting. Fascinating research has found that office workers who are exposed to greater amounts of light in the morning fall asleep more quickly at night. They also have better sleep quality and better moods, including less depression and stress, than those who are exposed to low light in the morning. 
  • Darken your evenings. There is another good reason to make sure that your bedroom (or wherever you sleep) is dark: When people are exposed to light during the night, their total daily melatonin production is suppressed dramatically, by as much as 50 percent. In other words, that nighttime light exposure throws the body’s 24-hour hormone production schedule off-kilter. It’s also wise to install a dimmer switch on the overhead light in the bathroom—or use a dim night-light—so that bright vanity lights don’t stimulate your senses and alertness while you’re taking care of bathroom business before hitting the sack or if you get up during the night.

Ultimately, honoring your body’s natural rhythms requires taking back control of your nights and days. It’s about putting time on your side and making conscious choices about the way you want to live so that you can restore your internal equilibrium, physiologically and psychologically. 

Yes, changing your behavior requires giving up the patterns you chose, consciously or not, in the past, and making the switch does take some effort and resolve. But if you make it a priority to stop upsetting your body’s internal rhythms and start living in sync with your body’s inherent needs, the payoffs will be well worth the effort. Your mood is likely to end up on a more even keel, and your energy will increase. Your physical health will probably improve and your emotional equilibrium will, too. Think of it this way: By respecting your body’s rhythms and doing whatever you can to maintain their regularity, you’ll be resetting your internal emotional thermostat, which will improve the way you react to and deal with the stresses and strains that are unavoidable in our modern world.

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

A Music Playlist for Better Sleep

To help you achieve the best night of rest, we recommend falling asleep to this relaxing music playlist, Music for Better Sleep, available through Sounds True on Spotify.


Lise Van Susteren, MD, previously served as a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University. She is a go-to commentator about anxiety and trauma for television (including CNN, Good Morning America, NBC, VOA, and Fox News), radio (NPR, Minnesota Public Radio, and others), print media (including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, and CQ Magazine), and online outlets (such as Live Science, U.S. News & World Report, Global Health NOW, and many others).

As a thought leader and activist, Dr. Van Susteren addresses issues related to trauma and emotional inflammation through her roles at the Earth Day Network and Physicians for Social Responsibility. She is considered an expert in the psychological effects of climate change.

Stacey Colino is an award-winning writer specializing in health and psychology. In addition to her work as a book collaborator, she is a regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report and AARP.org. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post Health section, Newsweek, Parade, Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, Health, Prevention, Woman’s Day, Harper’s Bazaar, Parents, and Good Housekeeping, among other magazines and newspapers.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop

Lance Allred: The New Alpha Male

Lance Allred is a former NBA player (who was the first legally deaf player in the league), public speaker, and author. With Sounds True, he has published The New Alpha Male: How to Win the Game When the Rules Are Changing. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Lance about the experiences he had in professional sports that led him to reevaluate what it means to be a man in contemporary society. Lance explains how his upbringing in a rural, polygamous commune informed his original ideas about masculinity, highlighting the subconscious assumptions about money and power that affect American men’s self-worth. Tami and Lance also discuss the roles of emotional vulnerability and surrender in the lives of modern men. Finally, they talk about the principle of perseverance and the increasingly urgent need for all cultures to reexamine their assumptions and core values.(63 minutes)

How to Stop Turning Your Back on Your Trauma

We Suffer Ahead of Time

There is a kind of pain that is born from the anticipation of something that we know will happen but has not yet happened. We suffer a lot for things that have not yet happened. We anticipate, in excruciating detail, the pain of a visit to the dentist or a planned surgery. We spend several months suffering the pain of giving birth. We suffer for the death of a loved one months before cancer takes their life. We suffer for things that do not yet hurt, in such a way that when real pain does arrive, our body and mind are already exhausted.

Our bodies are wise; this we have said already. Our bodies and our minds feel the impulse to repair the damage detected. When we feel pain, we activate a repair system with the objective of recovering the balance lost. But we must take care not to end up like Peter in the tale of “Peter and the Wolf”: he warned so many times about the wolf coming, without it being true, that when it did truly arrive, nobody believed him. If we activate the alert mechanism in the face of pain ahead of the time, then, when we need them the most, we won’t have any resources left to cope with it. 

The source of emotional pain is often caused by:

  • Adversity
  • Frustration
  • Disappointment
  • Unexpected change
  • Judgments and thoughts
  • Reality
  • Imagination
  • Fear
  • Anticipation

Suffering and adversity are just part and parcel of life. Any day we might experience the greatest and most unexpected of tragedies. But what really matters is not what could or might happen to us—which can be just about anything—but what is actually happening to us. When we speak about misfortune and adversity, we must speak about probabilities, not possibilities, namely the likelihood that any of the adversities we are exposed to might occur. Is there a chance that a piece of space debris might fall from outer space and split my head open? I don’t have the evidence to deny it. However, if I am going to be afraid of anything, in my case it would be the cows I meet in the mountains when I’m out for a run because it’s far more likely that I will be trampled by a cow than get hit by a piece of space debris.

So, if you ever ask yourself, “Why me?” remember that we are fragile; that we live in a hostile environment; and that sometimes, with the behaviors and the decisions that we make—or don’t make—we are taking risks that can lead us to adversity. However, at other times, the cruelest fate hits us with adversity.  

Building a Wall Is Not the Solution

Some people think that the solution to live more at ease is to build a wall to defend themselves. Do not make that mistake; the wall will defend you from exterior aggressions, but it will also prevent you from enjoying the wonderful things around you. If you build a wall, you will prevent disappointment, but you will feel bitterly lonely. A wall can protect you from fear of change but will create an inability to adapt to different situations. The wall will provide you with safety, but it will also make you a person who is dependent on its protection; it will make you insecure and fearful of what will happen when that wall disappears. I encourage you to build, instead of a wall, a library full of resources to help you maintain the level of emotional strength that you need.

What’s more, when we attempt to protect ourselves by adopting strategies that are damaging, and when we wear armor, we disconnect emotionally from the people around us and from reality. Building a wall is never the solution because it will not protect us from that pesky space debris looming above our heads. Don’t forget: prudence is good, fear is not.  

Reflection Exercise

I encourage you to do an exercise. Analyze the pain you are experiencing and try to identify its source. Don’t leave it for tomorrow. Don’t click to the next site just yet. Just pick up a notebook and a pencil, find a quiet place right now, and reflect. Take action, because it’s up to you to do something about this. Nobody will do it for you. 

Learn more about this powerful practice of healing trauma in Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Embracing the Imperfect and Loving Your Flaws by Tomás Navarro.

Tomás Navarro is a psychologist who loves people and what they feel, think, and do. He is the founder of a consultancy practice and center for emotional well-being. He currently splits his time between technical writing, training, consultancy, conferences and advisory processes, and personal and professional coaching. He lives in Gerona and Barcelona, Spain.

Terry Gaspard: Successful Committed Relationships—Wh...

Terry Gaspard is a licensed couples therapist, college professor, and the coauthor of Daughters of Divorce. She has teamed with Sounds True to publish The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Terry about the sometimes surprising factors that go into a healthy long-term relationship. Citing years of experience counseling couples, Terry explains that physical chemistry is less important to the life span of a relationship than you might think. Tami and Terry explore how to healthily navigate relationship conflict and the steps you can take to ensure open communication of emotional needs. They talk about healing after a relationship ends and how to evaluate whether you’re ready to enter another long-term partnership. Finally, Terry and Tami discuss the stress of being a stepparent and the resilience needed to weather fresh relationship challenges. (64 minutes)

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